People are living longer, therefore the U.S. needs to raise the Social Security retirement age.
The above statement fills me with despair. It can be spoken with a straight face only by a young person or a rich person who doesn’t understand: a) What it feels like to be sixty-something in the 21st century, and b) The place of the American worker in the market for human labor, given the new-normal, flat-world economy.
Full disclosure: I come at this retirement age question from a Baby Boomer point of view. I celebrated (?) a 64th birthday in June. For which I’m grateful. It means I’m one of the survivors. I am now enjoying my 65th summer on the planet Earth, which is one of my favorite planets.
It’s a summer like every other summer. Mostly hot, and filled with work.
Work has been the dominant feature — the reality, if you please — of EVERY summer since my teen-age years. Soon as I was old enough to qualify for a “work permit,” conveniently administered by the school system to facilitate child labor, I got a part-time job at McDonald’s, wrapping hamburgers at $1 an hour.
From that first week at McDonald’s, I have been a contributing participant in the Social Security system of the United States of America. A proud and willing participant, I might add. That very week, I paid a small percentage of my $1-per-hour paycheck into the Social Security Trust Fund. And McDonald’s, bless their heart, contributed an identical amount on my behalf.
And so it has continued every week of my life, from then until now. Not to put too fine a point on it, work has been the dominant reality of my life, ever since that first day at McDonald’s. Enough!
Reporting now from mid-August of my 65th summer, I can tell you that the heat, the humidity, and the grind wear a person down. I feel about worked out. Stick a fork in me, I’m almost done.
It must be true, statistically, that human beings are living longer than we used to. (Although looking around, I notice that many people my age and younger are already quite dead. Their reward, whatever it may be, will not include collecting Social Security. Doesn’t that leave a lot of extra Social Security payments in the Trust Fund for us survivors? Just asking.)
Let me get to the point. There are good reasons why people need to retire:
- Work wears out the human body. People who do physical labor, even something like standing up in one place for eight hours at a cash register, feel the aches and pains. Most people simply can’t go on forever.
- People who use their minds would seem to have an advantage. Unless you recognize that minds wear out, too. Take my short-term memory, please. Some older workers experience little or no failure of their mental powers. They are the lucky ones. I can tell you honestly that this older worker’s mind is not as sharp or as quick as it used to be.
- Some older workers compensate by accumulated knowledge and experience. But the fact is, many older workers are functionally obsolete. Our knowledge and experience can be virtually worthless. In the newspaper industry, the entire skilled printing trade has been wiped out. Newsroom reporting and editing staffs are shadows of former greatness. (Editors no longer exist. They have been replaced by a much smaller cadre of “Content Managers.”) Other industries have been transplanted to developing countries.
- Older workers usually are at a competitive disadvantage, compared to younger workers. Recent grads are current on the latest technology and information. Older workers are behind the learning curve. And the sharper, faster, younger workers, who speak computers as a first language, will work for less money than seasoned veterans.
But the most compelling reason not to raise the Social Security retirement age is the worldwide labor market.
Unemployment in the U.S. and other developed countries is not going away! It’s going to get worse! We can’t create new jobs fast enough to keep up with the growing workforce.
Worldwide, the supply of workers far exceeds demand. The supply of highly educated and skilled young workers in China and India is exploding. Meanwhile, automation, robotization, and smart computers continue to replace workers. In the supply and demand equation, American workers are overpriced.
The Social Security retirement age for full benefits has already been raised from 65 to 66. It’s scheduled to go to 67 in the future. 67 is old enough! Stop the craziness!
It makes absolutely no sense to force older Americans to continue working, while younger Americans are unemployed.
If we had the option, it would make sense to lower the retirement age. In fact, American companies have been doing just that for more than a decade! Corporations use early retirement incentives and coercion to get rid of older workers, in order to cut costs and make room for the young.
The Social Security system needs to be made financially stronger. But raising the retirement age is not the way to do it. Raising the retirement age would only hurt the U.S. economy and increase unemployment among the young.
— John Hayden
- Full Retirement Age (socialsecurityhome.com)
- Social Security Fixable; Changes Politically Tough (abcnews.go.com)
- Political Hurdles Prevent Social Security Fixes (huffingtonpost.com)
- Social Security Privatization Fight Revived By Dems To Attack Paul Ryan (huffingtonpost.com)
- Ryan gets heat from Dems over Social Security (miamiherald.com)
- Social Security: scary truths, or hoary scare tactics? (socialsecurityhome.com)
Thank you for that. May I add the point that, after forty or fifty years, people in a country that is still as wealthy as ours have a right to look forward to some time they can call their own before their spirits starve.
I am tougher than old Army boots, looked at from most angles — I can bust up a stack of weights that would scare some 30 year olds and nobody expects me to be as old as I am. But there is a point when a human being wants to stop having to jump through hoops, and it is getting very close for me. I have books and music I want to write, and fucking off that I want to fuck. So to speak. My career is the only one I could have endured, but it means that I essentially am unable to participate in the world — since I have to make myself available at the very hours when volunteer organizations, amateur choirs, performing arts groups, etc. are doing their thing. I am tired of having to answer every invitation with “Sorry, but I have to work that night.” “Sorry, but I work weekends.”
And because I am self-employed, I have been paying both the employer and employee share into FICA for the last 25 years. Can you say “bend over and grab your ankles”? The next time I hear the phrase “greedy seniors,” I do believe someone’s teeth are going to fly into the next county.
Thanks for your heartfelt thoughts. I know about being cut off from participation in the world. For many years, I worked for morning newspapers, which are written and edited the night before. At the peak of my career, I worked until midnight, and sometimes until 3 a.m. During one stretch, I worked Christmas four years in a row. It came with the territory.
I knew printers who were trapped by the union seniority system into working nights and weekends their entire adult lives.
Self-employed folks take a particular hard hit from the Social Security and Medicare taxes.
The article you wrote was thoughtful, short and concise, and a good read. Guess what! The political boys on this continent must have been having some conversations together, during playtime in the sand box. The retirement age has just gone up from 65 to 67 in Canada too.
The line was drawn for a birthyear of 1958. Up to 1958, you carry on with applications for governmental old age security, as we have done since its inception after WWII. If you were born up to April 1,1958 (inclusive), you are eligible to apply for Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), as a supplimental to Canada Pension Plan (CPP). I say eligible, because it is a paper process that is not a “given” to anyone. Should your pension contributions, from possibly 50 years of contributions not be adequate, you can apply for GIS – and like many Americans, far too many of us (Canadians) are in the same predicament of “not enough saved”.
The big new change now is what happens if you were born after April 1,1958. You cannot start this application process before your 67th birthyear – and it is the first time this eligibility rule has ever changed. This will put many 50+ year olds in the tight queeze of trying to find more labour wages, in a turn around time of 11 years, to make up for the loss. I think our politicians already know what the potential success rate of that equation is, for this group.
Also, who has 50 years worth of real savings to apply to our old age needs? It begs the notion that what you saved will not adequately have the same index power proportionally, for the future years and times you will spend it in. I think we are in for a long haul and review. Thank you for your energy in addressing this issue. If helps to apply a sense of humour, to what enevitably will not be “easy times” to live through – if at all!
I often wish we had the Canadian health care system here in the U.S. Also, Canada seems to have done much better than the U.S. in the housing and mortgage sector. Canada often seems to be ahead of the U.S. on social issues, like health care.
I suppose Canada and the U.S. are in a better demographic position on social security and pensions than most European countries.
You raise an interesting point about working for 50 years and ending up with contributions to the system that are inadequate to stave off poverty in old age. I wonder, in the U.S. and Canada, how can that possibly be?
Seems to me that if we pay into a system every week throughout our working lives, that money should be earning interest. I wish I was smart enough to calculate the return on my Social Security contributions from 1971 — my first year of full-time work after college. How much compounded interest has been earned on that money over the past 40 years?